Apple HomePod 2 review: great sound quality, but Siri still needs work
In-depth tested insights of Apple's new HomePo as a smart speaker, music player and home theater speaker
When Apple began selling its original HomePod in 2018, there was essentially no competition in its niche: a smart speaker with near-audiophile quality sound. Whatever Apple’s intentions for the speaker were, or whatever it expected people to use it for, it’s a fantastic speaker, and at the time, was far better at that aspect of its performance than any other. Unfortunately, it was beset by hardware issues and poor sales and discontinued in 2021.
Now, the 2023 Apple HomePod 2 is here, but the landscape is different. Since the original HomePod, Amazon has released the Echo Studio, fusing its superior-in-many-ways smart assistant with high-quality audio, while the Sonos One uses Alexa and Google Assistant (and its own digital assistant “voiced” by Giancarlo Esposito).
Does the HomePod 2 sound quality still hold up? Has Siri gotten any better? Here’s what I think.
🏆 Score: 3.5 out of 5
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Why trust my Apple HomePod 2 review
I’ve been deeply invested in the Apple ecosystem since buying my first HomePod in 2019 after lackluster experiences with both Google and Amazon smart home options. Although I kept those speakers around, it’s the HomePod I’ve come back to for home control and music listening.
As such, I’m well-positioned, as someone who fully understands the many trials and tribulations of the HomeKit ecosystem and Siri’s limits, to discuss Apple’s updated speaker.
Moreover, on the audio quality side, I was an active performing and recording musician for much of the last 20+ years. I’ve spent hours upon hours listening critically to mixes played back on high-dollar studio reference monitor speakers, car stereos, headphones, traditional home audio speakers and more. I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile per se, but I know what I like, and I know how to describe audio so that you can get an idea of whether you’ll like the HomePod 2 sound quality.
No two ears – or listening spaces – are alike, so most of my judgments are made relative to other speakers. There’s no accounting for taste though, so if it’s within your means to try before you buy, I’d recommend picking up a new HomePod 2 and saving your receipt.
How I tested the Apple HomePod 2
I don’t have access to a pristine lab or anechoic chamber for testing, but I could still set up reasonable comparisons. I have a basement that insulates me from outside noise well enough that I can’t even hear a thunderstorm, making it the next best place. I set up the HomePod 2 and other smart speakers on a table a little under head height when I’m seated and I tested from a couch about 8 feet from the table.
For audio comparisons, I conducted A and B testing using songs in several genres to target different sensibilities – well-recorded acoustic music, bass-heavy songs with challenging, complex arrangements, vocal-focused tracks and more. For home theater testing against the HomePod 1, I watched movies and played video games while noting differences in sound and performance.
On the smart home front, my basement also happens to be the place with the biggest variety of smart home devices I could see – Wi-Fi plugs and light switches, Hue bulbs, Thread devices, my TV, and a Bluetooth smart lock. I tested response time from the end of the last word of my request to the request being carried out – five tests for each device and smart speaker, averaged. Noting that if the smart device hasn’t been used in a while, it reliably took longer for the first response, I threw out the first test and did five more.
I also requested information from my thermostat, located on another floor. What I did not do was compare the smart speakers’ answers to other questions, such as what time a business opens or when the next big game is. I can already tell you from daily experience with these smart assistants that Siri has improved but still has miles to go before it can match Amazon or Google’s chops here.
I compared HomePod 2 audio with Apple Music against:
I tested HomePod 2 vs 1 home theater performance with:
I compared HomePod 2’s smart home ability against:
Apple HomePod (2018)
Amazon Echo Studio
Google Nest Audio
With these smart devices (not all compatible with all three assistants):
Hue white ambience bulb (Zigbee)
Sony Bravia OLED 4K TV A80J (Wi-Fi)
Eve Energy smart plug (Thread, HomeKit only)
Wemo Mini smart plug (Thread, HomeKit only)
Nanoleaf Essentials A19 bulb (HomeKit and Google Assistant only)
Meross HomeKit outdoor smart plug (Wi-Fi, HomeKit only)
Leviton smart dimmer switch (Wi-Fi)
August Smart Lock 3 Pro (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi)
Ecobee smart thermostat (Wi-Fi)
Apple HomePod 2 review: how much does it cost?
The HomePod 2 is a $299 smart speaker, making it the most expensive of the first-party options by $100 compared to the similar Amazon Echo Studio. That means two of them cost a whopping $598, which is galling when you look at it as a way to issue voice commands, but compared to similar-performing studio reference monitor speakers, costs can easily meet or exceed the HomePod 2 while giving you much larger speakers.
HomePod 1 vs 2: is it really new?
Out of the box, the HomePod 2 vs. HomePod 1 isn’t markedly different. It’s nearly identical to the 2018 HomePod before it, with some minor, though important, changes. The touch surface is now entirely backlit and inset in the top, while the removable-at-your-own risk proprietary cable is gone; it now uses a standard power cord that’s interchangeable with any C7 connector (the “figure eight-style plug you’d use in an Xbox Series X, for example). It’s also noticeably lighter weight, coming in at 5.16 pounds to the HomePod 1st Generation’s 5.5 pounds.
The only other external difference is in the redesigned silicone pad on the bottom – reportedly, the HomePod 2 will still stain your wood like the first, but to a lesser degree, though I haven’t experienced that issue on either speaker.
Inside, things have changed more. There are now five tweeters arranged around the middle – to the original’s seven – and four far-field microphones instead of six. The subwoofer remains an up-firing 4-inch affair that performs better than it should. The HomePod 2 also has a different chipset, using the same S8 SoC that runs the best Apple Watch – the first HomePod was powered by the Apple A8 chip last seen in the Apple TV HD.
HomePod 2 vs Mini: big sound and similar smarts
Most obviously, the HomePod 2 is a bigger speaker than the HomePod Mini and an undeniably better one for sound quality – it’s just physics.
Otherwise, the HomePod 2 shares a lot in common with the HomePod Mini. The two use the older, slower Wi-Fi 4 standard, which initially concerned me but didn’t impact performance in my testing. Also like the Mini, it can tell you the temperature and humidity of the room it's in (though it often disagreed with the other sensors in my home, including nearby HomePods) and listen for smoke alarms, alerting you when something’s amiss. There’s no word on whether that feature will also trickle down to the first HomePod.
HomePod 2023 specs
💰 Price: $299
📆 Release date: February 3, 2023
🔊 Sound system: 5 tweeters, single 4-inch subwoofer
🎹 EQ: None, uses computational audio and room sensing for auto-tuning sound
🎙️ Microphones: 4 far-field microphones
🏠 Smart home platform: Apple HomeKit with Siri, Matter
📻 Music services: Apple Music (default), several 3rd party services (limited)
📶 Connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 4), Bluetooth 5.0, Thread, Ultra-Wideband chip
☸️ Smart hub features: Apple HomeKit, Thread border router w/Matter support
👉 Interface: Voice and touchpad for direct control, iOS and MacOS indirectly
👂 Sensors: sound recognition, temperature and humidity, accelerometer
👯 Wireless pairing: Yes, stereo pair and multi-room audio capable (AirPlay 2) – no Bluetooth
📏 Dimensions: 6.6 x 5.6 inc
⚖️ Weight: 5.16 lbs
HomePod 2 sound quality: clear, realistic audio
I’m going deep in the next couple of sections, but if you just want a short summary, here it is: the HomePod 2 has fantastic mids and highs without being ear-piercing and clean bass without the artificial boosting that gives a lot of speakers a boomier thump. It’s easy to pick out individual parts of songs and nothing ever feels lost in the mix.
In stereo pair – that is, linking them wirelessly to turn one speaker into the left channel and the other into the right – it really excels, with a broad soundstage that makes for an immersive listening experience that’s hard to get with unidirectional speakers without sitting directly in front of them.
That said, while I think HomePod 2 is the best smart speaker for music, those who prefer more low-end oomph or complained that the first HomePod wasn’t bassy enough may be better served elsewhere. If you’d like a more in-depth audio review of music and home theater performance, read on – if not, you can skip ahead to the section on the HomePod 2’s smart speaker performance.
Despite my initial disappointment compared to the HomePod 1, I came away impressed by the HomePod 2 a week later – maybe it’s because it needed time to autotune to my environment or my ears had to adjust to the new sound; it’s hard to say.
As I said above, the HomePod 2 bass packs a tad less punch than the HomePod 1, but it gives a more honest representation of the songs it plays – if the song is meant to thump, it thumps. If it’s not, it’s still got plenty of low end without making that the focus.
Not everyone will find the sound to their tastes, though, so I compared it to others. The original HomePod favors a warmer tone, while the Echo Studio achieves a more atmospheric character that lends itself well to acoustic music. The Sonos One came across as boxed-in, though, and although I like that speaker on its own, it doesn’t do anything particularly better than the HomePod 2.
Some examples: on the 1976 classic Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas, everything comes through in the mix on the HomePod. Most notable, for me, was the bass drum, which sounded like I was in the room with it – and having spent a good 20 years in one band or another, I’m familiar with that noise. The Echo Studio and Sonos One, on the other hand, gave the instrument a flat, artificial tone when compared directly to the HomePod 2.
On Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, though, the HomePod 2 vs. Echo Studio sound is more intimate, which some might like, while the Studio gave more presence to the reverb Taylor’s voice is bathed in. The Sonos One again sounded flat, however, like Taylor was singing with a towel on his face.
All three speakers did a good job with Them Changes by Thundercat, a bass-heavy song with a complex, arpeggiated, effects-laden bassline, but here again the HomePod 2 shined, with Thundercat’s voice coming through clear as day on top of the beefy bass, without losing the delicate piano and synth work that comes in midway into the song.
HomePod 2 review: home theater prowess
The HomePod 2 can be paired with an Apple TV 4K to serve as your home theater speakers, and if you’re looking for a way to replace your TV speakers, you could do far worse. In stereo pair, movies sound great – action films can get loud, with the subwoofers punching above their weight when it comes to representing on-screen noise. It’s not quite as theatrical as the HomePod 1, though not having one of my HomePods occasionally make a popping noise in the middle of a movie was a nice change of pace.
For spoken dialogue, although Apple says the speaker leverages its computational chops to boost actors’ voices, I found it hard to notice any difference with the HomePod 2 vs HomePod 1.
You can also use the HomePod 2 for other audio sources than just the Apple TV 4K if you have an eARC-compatible TV. Playing the best Nintendo Switch games or best Xbox Series X games, I’m deeply impressed with the audio lag, or lack thereof – I frankly didn’t notice any. All of the other things I said about watching movies applies here as well: the sound experience while gaming is stellar, and you’d have to spend far more than the $300 apiece the HomePods cost to get something of similar quality out of stereo speakers.
HomePod 2 review: Siri frustrates
Though the HomePod 2 is a smart speaker, better than the original, it still feels, first and foremost, like a music device. Although things have improved for Siri and I have my own reasons for preferring Apple’s smart assistant to any other, it’s a long row to hoe and the company still has its struggles there.
The HomePod 2 is faster than the HomePod 1 and Google Nest Audio – at times, in my testing, it was even a touch faster than Alexa, which is no mean feat, as Alexa on the Echo Studio or Echo Dot can feel near instantaneous in carrying out requests. But that was only for certain smart home devices; for most, it still took 1-2 seconds from the end of my request to the desired result.
It did seem more reliable than the original HomePod for controlling lights, switches and smartplugs, and it successfully did what I asked every time. I’ve lived with smart home speakers long enough to know, however, that you can go weeks on end with no major issues, only to have everything fall apart for days, weeks or even months at a time.
Compared to the smart home control apps from other companies, HomeKit comes out way ahead. Adding and configuring devices is intuitive and the interface has clearly had immense thought put into it, with easy-to-find details on environmental sensors, which devices are on or off and organization that makes sense. It’s the best part about the Apple’s smart home ecosystem, by far.
That’s the good news. The bad news is I ran into many of the same frustrations I’ve always had with Siri, no matter what form it takes. Music requests occasionally were acknowledged but not carried out, or sound would come out of one speaker and not the other when in stereo pair. It would forget configurations or show me music was playing when it wasn’t.
While I was doing one last music-listening session for this review, the HomePod couldn’t hear me when music was playing, despite it doing so on every previous test, even if I was all the way on the other side of the basement where I tested it, speaking at a conversational volume.
A software update halfway through my review seemed to fix most of these issues, and to be fair, I had upgraded my HomeKit ecosystem to the new architecture Apple quickly pulled in December after it broke some users’ smart homes, so it’s possible that aspect of my experience won’t be representative when Apple redistributes the new software with iOS 16.4. I’ll be sure to update this review at that time to reflect the renewed implementation of HomeKit.
Should you buy the Apple HomePod 2?
✅ You’re deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem
✅ Your old HomePod is failing or you think the sound is too bassy
✅ You have privacy concerns but still want an easy-to-use smart home
❌ You don’t like Siri and aren’t buying it just for music
❌ You only want Siri – the HomePod Mini is the right, $200-less choice for you
❌ You think balanced, clear sound is too clinical and prefer boomy bass
Published: February 6, 2023
Updated: February 10, 2023